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The future of Chris Tremlett as a Test bowler may become clearer over the next few days; does he have the firepower of two years ago?
August 19, 2013
It is not hard to understand what the England selectors see in Chris Tremlett. Tall, broad and lean, Tremlett has many of the natural attributes of a top fast bowler and the record to match: before injury struck, his 11 Tests had brought 49 wickets at a cost of 26.75 a piece. Even Shane Warne, often reluctant to lavish praise on England, suggested Tremlett could become the best seamer in the world.
But Tremlett owes his latest recall as much to reputation and wishful thinking as he does to achievement. This season, since returning from back and knee surgery, he has claimed only 19 Championship wickets at an average of 36.93. To some extent those figures can be explained away by the type of pitches that he has played - low, slow and lifeless - but it cannot be ignored that he has been recalled for the Test on that same Oval square.
On the surface, Tremlett looks the same now. Just as broad, just as fit, just as strong and lean. He looks magnificent. He still has the pleasing high action too and, given some assistance, can still gain steep bounce. The England players report he has bowled impressively in the nets and the England selectors have never found anyone who could completely replace his formidable array of skills: the bounce, the control, the swing and the pace.
But there is a suspicion that, through no fault of his own, Tremlett is not quite the same bowler. All the evidence of this season - and the vision of him being slogged into the stands on T20 finals day on Saturday, in particular - suggests he has lost that bit of pace that separates the decent from the dangerous.
The thought remains that he is not quite capable of replicating the lift and bounce he once could. Tremlett has not always won selection for Surrey at The Oval this season. Reasoning that pace through the air would be more useful than bounce, Surrey have sometimes opted for Stuart Meaker and Jade Dernbach ahead of Tremlett not on a rotation basis, but on merit.
Tremlett, of course, is desperate to play. It was the dream of experiencing international cricket again that persuaded him into the painful and frustrating business of rehabilitation after his operations and the selectors still hope that, on Australian pitches, his height could prove a key asset.
"I'm dying to get an opportunity," he said. "I've had a lot of time out through injury and it's taken time to find my rhythm again and get back into shape. The start of the season was tough finding rhythm and getting match overs back into my legs. As the season has gone on, the better I've bowled.
"My figures might not suggest that on paper, but the last three or four Championship games I've played in I've been up near my best. Certainly the game at Yorkshire - which was my best game all season - I felt I was at my best rhythm. I only took a couple of wickets [2 for 127 in the match] but I was in back in my best rhythm.
"The motivation has always been to get back playing for England. I've always believed I can compete at that level. That motivation has always kept me going even though I've had some dark and testing times coming back from injury.
"It's generally a good wicket to bat on here. It's a wicket where you have to make the most of the new ball and where you have to be very patient."
He is not certain to play. While Tim Bresnan's injury - cruelly timed after he had enjoyed, arguably, the best Test of his career in Durham - has created an opportunity for someone, Steven Finn remains almost as likely to return. Finn is still not back to his best and may not fit into the economical style that England embrace, but he remains a long-term part of the plan. But, on a pitch where attrition might prove key, Tremlett may well prove the tighter option.
There are other options. England could play two specialist spinners - Simon Kerrigan joining Graeme Swann in the side - which might well necessitate the inclusion of allrounder Chris Woakes, preferred in the squad to Ben Stokes, at No. 6 or No. 7. It remains an unlikely scenario - England have not played two specialist spinners in a Test at home since Cardiff in 2009 and Joe Root's development as a bowler has done nothing to increase its likelihood - but on a dry pitch and against a side who look more uncomfortable than most against spin, it is as likely now as it has been for four years.
Woakes' inclusion would surprise those whose only experience of him is in white ball cricket. In that format it has become apparent that he lacks the pace or the skills to flourish as a bowler, with a failure to deliver yorkers to demand proving a major weakness.
But he is a far more proficient bowler with the red ball. He can swing it both ways and, while his lack of pace will remain an issue, his natural length should enable him to fulfil a holding role when required. What he is not, though, is a like-for-like replacement for Bresnan. He is a better batsman, but less versatile bowler and cannot be expected to deliver the back of length spells that have proved so important in the last few Tests.
The other option England have - and it is an option they utilised in India - is to play a four man attack with two seamers and two spinners. Bearing in mind the workload that James Anderson and Stuart Broad have carried this summer, though, that seems unlikely. Anderson, in particular, has looked jaded of late, so asking him to play as one of two seamers would seem an unnecessary risk.
Whichever of the seamers misses out may console themselves with the thought that this may not be the worst Test to miss. Wickets at The Oval no longer offer anything like the pace and bounce they once did and it may prove that, whichever seamer plays does their chances of inclusion in the squad to Australia little good. While a dry pitch and the large, abrasive square should offer some opportunities for reverse swing and spin, patience and attrition tend to be the keys to bowling at The Oval these days.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
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